While many cult films have declared themselves “the next Rocky Horror Picture Show“, only The Room seems to have developed the same rituals, staying power and creative counter-culture as Richard O’Brien’s rock musical. Much as “Rocky” inspired hordes of cosplayers and filk-writers, The Room inspired a fan-made RPG and a mockumentary detailing the horrible (and fictional) lives of the actors involved following the making of the movie. There’s also a serious documentary in the works.
Originally released in 2003, The Room tells the tale of banker and living saint Johnny, his mercurial fiancee Lisa, Johnny’s best friend, Mark, and the love triangle that forms between them. Further description of the film’s story is pointless as The Room defies traditional critical analysis.
The force behind The Room is auteur Tommy Wiseau – a true eccentric by most accounts (i.e. utterly insane but rich enough that people will humor him). Wiseau’s efforts in getting The Room completed proved even stranger than the film itself. This story was detailed in The Disaster Artist – the 2013 autobiography of actor Greg Sestero, who played the role of Mark and also served as the film’s line producer. The book tells two stories in alternating chapters – how Sestero befriended Tommy Wiseau and how The Room was made in spite of Wiseau’s puzzling decisions as a writer, producer, actor and director.
The odd thing about The Disaster Artist as a book was how it was less about the making of the The Room and more about an odd friendship born of circumstance. Ironically, in detailing Wiseau’s failings as a creator, Sestero turned him into a sympathetic underdog whose antics inspire pathos rather than scorn. Sestero, too, wins the reader’s admiration for being quick to sing praises of Wiseau’s generosity and support even as he details Wiseau’s increasingly erratic behavior. By doing this, Sesteros avoids the appearance of exploiting his friendship for the sake of a tell-all book.
This brings us to The Disaster Artist – the film based on the book on the making of what many hold to be the worst movie ever made. Comparison to Tim Burton’s 1994 Ed Wood is inevitable, given the subject matter. It’s a fair one, however, as both pieces are comedies that revel in the sheer weirdness of their subjects and the carnival atmosphere their films inspired.
That being said, I think The Disaster Artist more closely resembles the 1999 Andy Kaufman biographical film Man On The Moon, despite Wiseau and Kaufman being almost polar opposites. Kaufmann cultivated personalities in a bid to get laughs whereas Wiseau struggled to be taken seriously and be anyone but himself. Both films also take liberties with their timeline of events for dramatic purposes, though the film of The Disaster Artist does stay true to the focus on the bromance between Greg and Tommy.
The Disaster Artist falters, however, in that it fails to inspire sympathy for the devil in the same way that the book did. While James Franco does a masterful job impersonating Wiseau The Actor and Wiseau The Auteur, he fails to make Wiseau a sympathetic figure. Dave Franco has a similar problem in his portrayal of Greg Sestero, coming off more as an unwitting dupe to Wiseau’s scheming than a reluctant accomplice.
A part of the problem may lie in the script, which places greater emphasis on the conflict between Greg’s girlfriend, Amber (Allison Brie), and Tommy and their respective holds on Greg than the original book did. Ironically, the changes made in the movie seem less dramatic than the real events described by Sestero in the book, though if there is any true story that is too unrealistic to be taken seriously as a fictionalized account, it is the making of The Room. Another change comes in the film’s finale, which will likely be compared to the funeral in Man On The Moon in the idealized Hollywood-style ending it offers up.
The rest of the ensemble cast is skillful in their performances, but – given the film’s focus on Greg and Tommy’s friendship – have little to do beyond caricature the actors from the original The Room. Even then, they only appear in the later half of the movie. Seth Rogen delivers some laughs playing script supervisor Sandy Schklair, though even he is largely limited to playing the straight-man to James Franco’s Wiseau.
Charlie Chaplin once said that “anyone can make them cry but it takes a genius to make them laugh.” Does this mean that Tommy Wiseau is some unknown comedic genius ahead of his time? Hell no! The Room is a terrible movie and it’s a fluke that it wound up attracting the attention that it did.
If The Disaster Artist has any inspirational lesson to teach, it’s that the old adage that anyone can achieve their dreams if they put their mind to it is true. You just have to accept that, like wishes made with a monkey’s paw, the dream might not come true exactly the way you expect.